The Sports-Streaming Mess Is Just Starting

Streamers are increasingly investing in sports, and audiences are following them. But for soccer fans in the U.S., the irony is that watching this year’s World Cup is still confusing, frustrating, and expensive. Photo: Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/Getty Images
Julia Alexander
November 29, 2022

There are few more symbiotic relationships in the new world of entertainment than the one between streaming and soccer fans. American audiences who watch the sport are among the youngest in the country, with 50 percent under the age of 40, according to a Morning Consult survey, and the same demographic of cord-cutters and never-corders who subscribe to multiple streaming services. Premier League has helped Peacock grow its subscriber base, according to Antenna Research. UEFA is also a key driver for Paramount+, according to executives I speak with, which explains why the company spent $1.5 billion to secure matches through 2030. ESPN+ has seen success with various soccer licenses. It’s hardly a surprise that AppleTV+ just paid $2.5 billion for decade-long rights to MLS. 

We used to think that sports were the final vestige of cable. Now, we realize that they’re the next frontier of streaming. Paramount+ and Peacock rely heavily on Sunday NFL games for engagement and signups. Amazon has driven significant domestic signups through Thursday Night Football and the audience is up among 18-49 year-olds. The NHL, a peripatetic league during the past decade, moved to Hulu in hopes of finding a younger audience for hockey. NBA League Pass saw 30 percent growth in global subscribers during the past season, when prices were dropped to better compete with services like ESPN+. 

Subscriptions to some virtual TV options—especially YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV, which both prominently feature live sports rights—have grown over the past few years. Hulu’s live offering grew 10 percent year over year through Disney’s fourth quarter, while YouTube TV has grown from 3 million to more than 5 million customers in two years even with price increases. In October, peak sports season, viewership for YouTube and Hulu increased, according to Nielsen’s The Gauge report.